Game Preview: Duke Blue Devils vs. Connecticut Huskies

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Game Preview

Duke Blue Devils (9-0, 0-0] vs. University of Connecticut (UConn) Huskies (4-3, 0-0]

Thursday, December 18. 2014 • 8:00 PM • ESPN • East Rutherford, NJ • Izod Center (19,040)

By Randy Dunson

1. Snapshot

Duke

Duke (9-0) travels to East Rutherford, N.J., to face Connecticut (4-3) at the Izod Center Thursday, December 18. Tipoff is set for 8:00 PM with ESPN televising the contest. Duke enters the game ranked No. 2 in the AP Poll and the USA Today Coaches Poll. The Blue Devils are 115-18 when ranked No. 2 in the AP Poll. Connecticut is unranked in both polls. Duke has won 27 straight games in the month of December dating back to a December 2, 2009 loss at Wisconsin.

The Blue Devils have shot 50 percent or better from the field seven times this season and are second in the NCAA in field goal percentage (.537). Duke is looking to open the season with 10 straight wins for the 19th time in school history and the 14th time under Coach K. Duke is 20-1 all-time at the Izod Center (formerly the Meadowlands), including a 10-0 mark in NCAA Tournament play.

University of Connecticut (UConn)

The University of Connecticut men’s basketball team (4-3) is set to battle No. 2 Duke (9-0) on Thursday at 8 PM in a neutral game at the IZOD Center in East Rutherford, N.J. The Huskies sport a record of 2-1 in neutral games this season, and UConn is 11-8 all-time in games played at the IZOD Center (formerly Brendan Byrne Arena, Continental Airlines Arena, or the Meadowlands).

The Huskies are 4-5 all-time against the Blue Devils in a series that dates back to 1964. UConn has won four of the last five meetings, including the 1999 National Championship, the first-ever NCAA title for the program. Connecticut also edged Duke, 79-78, in the 2004 national semifinals on its way to its second national title. The Blue Devils will be the second ranked opponent this season for UConn, which fell to No. 7 Texas, 55-54, on a Longhorns’ last-second three-pointer back on November 30 at Gampel Pavilion. Last season, Connecticut went 10-4 against ranked teams.

 

2. Team Seasons Thus Far

Duke Blue Devils

In its last outing, Jahlil Okafor turned in a dominating performance, leading Duke to a 75-62 win over Elon Monday. He posted 25 points and 20 rebounds to become the sixth player at Duke to register a 20-20 game. Okafor set a Duke freshman record with 20 rebounds and matched the single-game freshman offensive rebound (10) mark in the win. Amile Jefferson (13), Justise Winslow (12), and Rasheed Sulaimon (11) also scored in double figures for the Blue Devils. Duke shot 65.0 percent (26-of-40) from inside the three-point arc against the Phoenix. Okafor (10-of-14) and Jefferson (6-of-7) combined to shoot 76.2 percent (16-of-21) from the field.

Overall, several notable highlights, trends, and highlights continue to emerge as the season progresses:

Team Highlights

  • Duke has won 13 consecutive games at the Izod Center (formerly the Meadowlands), including a 79-78 win over Connecticut March 24, 1990. Christian Laettner hit a 17-footer at the buzzer to advance the Blue Devils to the Final Four.
  • The Blue Devils are one of nine remaining undefeated teams in the NCAA. Duke and Kentucky are the only teams in that group to win each game by 10 or more points.
  • Duke has won each of the first nine games by 10 or more points, marking the first time since the 2002-03 season it has accomplished that feat.
  • The Blue Devils have never opened a season with 10 straight double figure victories.
  • The Blue Devils have trailed for just 4:54 through the first nine games of the season. Duke’s largest deficit this season has been four points.
  • Duke ranks second in the NCAA with a +26.9 scoring margin. The Blue Devils have won all nine games by double figures, including three games by 30 or more points.
  • The Blue Devils have shot 50.0 percent or better from the field in the second half seven times and are shooting 55.1 percent (136-of-247) from the field in the second half of play on the year.
  • Duke is looking for its first 10-game win streak since the start of the 2012-13 season. The Blue Devils opened that campaign with 15 consecutive wins

Individual Player Highlights

  • Freshmen guard Tyus Jones, center Jahlil Okafor, and guard/forward Justise Winslow have started all nine games for the Blue Devils. Mike Krzyzewski has started three or more freshmen in a game 44 times at Duke, including 27 times during the 1982-83 season.
  • Duke’s top-rated freshman class – Grayson Allen, Tyus Jones, Jahlil Okafor, and Justise Winslow – combines to average 45.2 points per game while shooting an efficient 54.2 percent (143-of-264) from the field. The group has accounted for 20 of Duke’s 37 double figure scoring games.
  • Senior guard Quinn Cook has made at least one three-point field goal in each of the past 19 games. He is shooting 42.2 percent (46-of-109) from behind the arc in that stretch. Cook leads the ACC in three-point field goals (2.67 3PG) this season.
  • Duke’s starting frontcourt of Okafor and junior forward Amile Jefferson combines to average 27.3 points and 16.9 rebounds per game, while shooting 67.3 percent (107-of-159) from the field.
  • Okafor, a three-time ACC Freshman of the Week selection, leads the ACC in field goal percentage (.655), while also ranking among the league leaders in scoring (2nd – 18.0 PPG), rebounds (T-5th – 9.0 RPG), offensive rebounds (1st – 4.2 ORPG) and blocks (T-8th – 1.7 BPG).
  • Cook is averaging a team-high 18.0 points to go along with 3.7 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game in neutral site contests. He is 18-of-36 (.500) from the field, including 10-of-21 (.476) from three-point range in the three games.
  • In Monday’s win over Elon, Okafor became the first Division I freshman to record 25 points, 20 rebounds and three blocks in a game since Michael Beasley in 2007. Okafor also became just the second freshman (joining Joe Smith, Maryland) in ACC history to register a 20-20 game.
  • Jefferson is 20-of-23 (.870) from the field over the past four games and is averaging 10.5 points and 8.3 rebounds per game in that span.
  • Junior guard Rasheed Sulaimon has scored in double figures in three straight games and is averaging 12.7 points per game in that stretch. He is 13-of-27 (.481) from the field with a 7.0:1 assist-to-turnover ratio in the last three games.

University of Connecticut (UConn)

In its last outing, Connecticut defeated Coppin State, 106-85, on Sunday at the XL Center to snap its three-game losing streak behind a career-best 40 points from sophomore Amida Brimah (Accra, Ghana). The UConn center became the 11th different Husky to ever eclipse that point total, and his 40 points were the most by a Connecticut player since Kemba Walker scored 42 points against Vermont on Nov. 17, 2010. Brimah’s sensational outing against the Eagles also produced a program record, as the sophomore finished the game 13-13 from the floor, good for the best shooting percentage in a game for any UConn player ever (min. 10 attempts). Brimah, this week’s American Athletic Conference Player of the Week, also grabbed a career-high 12 rebounds to earn his first-ever double-double, while freshman guard Daniel Hamilton (11 points, 11 assists) tallied the accomplishment for the first time in his career as well. His 11 assists against the Eagles were the most for a Connecticut player this season. UConn’s 106 points in the victory marked the highest total since Connecticut’s 6OT game against Syracuse on March 12, 2009 when the Huskies totaled 117 points.

The 2013-14 team captured the program’s fourth National Championship in 16 years and gave Kevin Ollie a championship ring in just his second season as head coach. With the trophy safely tucked away now UConn turns its attention to the 2014-15 season and dealing with the lofty expectations that inevitably follow a championship run. With three starters, 65 percent of last year’s points, 55 percent of the rebounds, 60 percent of the assists, and 77 percent of the three-pointers gone from the team, however, clearly the Huskies had some roles to fill.

Overall, Ollie and his coaching staff have to mesh six returning players with four newcomers on the 2014-15 Huskies.

Once again, UConn will be strong and deep on the perimeter, where 6-0 senior guard Ryan Boatwright, one of two returning starters, figures to assume the leadership responsibilities handled so well last season by All-American Shabazz Napier. The lightning-quick Boatright, who leads the team in scoring (18.9), assists (4.1), steals (1.9), and minutes played (36.0), will not only be asked to be a scoring point guard, but also play the same kind of suffocating, disruptive on-ball defense that he did in the NCAA tourney, which made him an All-Final Four Team selection. Joining Boatright in the backcourt this season are redshirt sophomore Rodney Purvis, eligible after sitting out last season following his transfer from North Carolina State, sophomore Terrence Samuel, and redshirt sophomore Sam Cassell Jr.

At 6-4 and a solid 205 pounds, Purvis, a former McDonald’s All-American, figures to add strength and scoring power to the Huskies with his bruising, slash-to-the-basket style. As a freshman at North Carolina State in 2012-13, Purvis played 35 games, starting 23, and averaged 8.3 points and 2.4 rebounds. With a year of college game experience, plus a year of getting acclimated to UConn under his belt, Purvis is having an immediate impact in the Huskies’ backcourt. The 6-4 Samuel picked up valuable experience last season, playing 30 games and averaging 2.4 points per game. During the NCAA tourney run, he upped that to 4.5 points per game and played a vital role in the championship run. He figures to battle for playing time in the backcourt, as will 6-4 sophomore Cassell, who joins the team after a season as a first team JUCO All-American at Chipola College (Fla.), where he averaged 18.4 points and 3.7 assists to lead the team to a 26-6 record and a NJCAA Region Championship. On the perimeter, three-point shooting comes from 6-7 freshman swingman Daniel Hamilton, a Top 30 recruit who could be an impact player for the Huskies.

UConn will be looking for added contributions from its big men this season. They were counting on 6-10 junior forward Phillip Nolan but he has yet to produce significant numbers. The breakout big man thus far is 7-0 center sophomore Amida Brimah. Brimah was the Huskies’ highest-scoring freshman last year. Following off-season shoulder surgery, the agile sophomore is third in scoring (12.1) and fourth in rebounds (4.9).

Versatile 6-9 sophomore forward Kentan Facey figures to have a much larger role this season as an athletic big man who can score in a variety of ways. Meanwhile, 6-8 freshman power forward Rakim Lubin is a strong, raw talent who will provide rebounding help inside.

3. Head-to-Head

The UConn-Duke nine-game series dates back to 1964, with Duke holding a 5-4 edge, and includes some of the most important games in UConn history. All nine of the games have been played on a neutral court, with four of the games in the NCAA Tournament, one in the Sweet 16 (1991), one in the Elite Eight (1990), one in the NCAA National Semifinals (2004), and one in the NCAA National Championship game (1999). Since 1990, UConn is 4-3 against Duke and all seven games have been decided by an average of 5.3 points per game. The Huskies have won four of the last five games against

Duke, but the Blue Devils took the last game between the two, a 68-59 decision on November 27, 2009, in the championship game of the NIT Season Tip-Off at Madison Square Garden.

In terms of a few key offensive and defensive statistical parameters, Duke leads in all except for RPG, which gives the Blue Devils a significant statistical edge head-to-head.

 

Duke 2014-15 Regular Season Key Stats Comparison University of Connecticut (UConn)
87.6 (+28.6) PPG (Scoring Margin) 68.3 (+9.2)
60.7 Opponents PPG 62.4
60.6 Effective FG% 49.2
53.7 FG% 44.9
40.3 Opponent FG% 40.2
38.2 3PT FG% 29.2
26.7 Opponent 3PT FG% 34.5
38.3 (+8.8) RPG (Rebound Margin) 36.6 (+3.7)
29.3 Opponent RPG 31.9
18.4 APG 11.9
8.9 SPG 5.4
10.2 (+4.8) Turnovers Per Game (Margin) 12.7 (+1.9)
14.7 Opponent TOPG 12.9
3.9 BPG 4.3

 

4. Four Factors to Winning

[If you wish to learn more about how the four factors are calculated and implemented, a description can always be found here, http://www.dukeblogger.com/four-factors-winning/.]

4 Factors-Uconn

Duke holds a definite edge in all factors. When looking at eFG%, it is 60.6% to 49.2%. In terms of handling the ball, the Blue Devils have the edge in (15.0% vs. 19.2%). In offensive rebounding, the edge is 39.0% vs. 31.4%), and finally, when it comes to getting to the free throw line (41.0% vs. 36.3%).

 

5. Key Points to Consider

First, a few points regarding both team’s overall profile at this point:

Duke

  • Makes the most of its possessions
  • Hard to score against
  • Commits few fouls

University of Connecticut (UConn)

  • Two main scorers (Boatwright/Brimah)
  • Stingy defense
  • Commits few fouls

Now, a few key points to consider from Duke’s perspective. These may often carry over to future games but keys specific to a current opponent will always be mentioned.

  • Big Man Battle – CanUconn ContainOkafor
    • Both big men for each team had stellar games this past week
    • It was only time before Okafor stepped up again, but Amida Brimah went off for 40 points against Coppin State but was this just an anomaly given his lackluster play until that game
    • Brimah will need help from the backcourt of Boatwright and Purvis as it is doubtful that he can handle Okafor one-on-one in the box
  • Crisis of Confidence
    • The Huskies had lost three games in a row until the victory over Coppin State
    • That has to have some players wondering just how good they are given that they only go about 6 or 7 deep
    • If Duke jumps out to an early lead, any confidence may melt away
  • Three-Point Shooting+
    • Three-point shooting is key in almost any college game
    • UConn is shooting an abysmal 29.5% while Duke is hitting 38.2% of its threes
    • Given the Huskies’ struggles from deep, Duke can pack the lane on defense and help on Brimah if needed
    • Having more Blue Devils in the lane will also lead to more rebounding and fewer second-chance points for the overmatched Huskies
    • On the other side, UConn may have to double Okafor if Brimah cannot handle the superstar on his own
  • The Veteran vs. the Freshman
    • Ryan Boatright is the senior leader for Connecticut and brings a championship pedigree to the table; he will be tasked with going up against Duke’s superstar freshman point guard in T. Jones, who already torched Traevon Jackson and Wisconsin for 22 points, six rebounds and four assists and won’t back down from the moment
    • It should be mentioned that for as impressive as Jones was against Wisconsin, Jackson scored 25 points on the other end. Boatright will have opportunities to score and impact the game as an offensive player as well against Jones Bottom of Form
    • The luxury Mike Krzyzewski has for this matchup, though, is Winslow; If Boatright starts to go off, Coach K could switch Winslow onto him in an effort to swallow the smaller point guard up and limit Connecticut’s ability to set anything up in the half court

6. Endgame

Entering the season, this contest had must-watch written all over it. After all, the Connecticut Huskies won the national championship last season, while the Duke Blue Devils tend to compete for a title every season, and have a tremendous amount of talent.

Fast forward to now, and the Huskies have gotten off to a disappointing start, and Duke is one of the top teams in the country. Guess Connecticut did not really hold up its end of the deal. As expected, Ryan Boatright has stepped up in a big way (averaging 18.9 PPG), so there’s one plus for the Shabazz Napier-less Huskies. A win against the Dayton Flyers early on had this team off to a solid start, but three straight losses have knocked the defending champs out of the top 25 rankings.

Duke, on the other hand, has already beaten the Michigan State Spartans and Wisconsin Badgers, two of the Big Ten‘s best teams. The victory against the Badgers came on the road. So yes, the Blue Devils gained one heck of a resume builder with that win.

Jahlil Okafor was the No. 1 recruit in the 2014 class and he is slowly but surely proving that. Okafor is leading the Blue Devils in points (18 PPG) and rebounds (9.0 RPG). At this rate, he could be the next Naismith winner. Before we get too far ahead of ourselves on that one, let us remember that it is only December.

Other than the fact that Duke has more talent and momentum entering this contest, here is one key stat to keep in mind: Duke is averaging 87.6 points per game, while Connecticut is only putting up 68.3 per game.

I like the Huskies’ chances in this game, if Boatright can score 30+. Assuming that doesn’t happen, and as Coach K put it, “…we need to play better than a normal team…” Duke’s offense will more than likely be too much for the defending champs to handle, leading to a 15+ point win for the Devils.